COW works as a kind of bulletin board service. Its advantage is that you can access it from the internet using a regular web browser. It allows the Fair Witness to set up a structure of topics to discuss, with conversations under each topic. Information (including hyperlinks and images) can be put on display and accessed by anyone who is permitted into the conference, much like a regular web page.
Within the conversations, COW allows Participants to post messages, replies and commentaries. Everyone in the conference can see and respond to posts in any conversation.
COW doesn't work in 'real time,' meaning that you can't converse with the other members like you would person to person or on another tool like Internet Relay Chat (IRC). You can think of COW as a way to put e-mail messages on display for an entire class in an organized, user-friendly way.
COW is separated into three sections as shown below...
In addition, COW allows two kinds of members: Fair Witnesses and Participants. Fair Witnesses (or instructors) administer each conference. Fair Witnesses are in charge of setting up the conference, adding users to the access list so they can view the conference, creating topics of discussion, and regulating the conversations that take place. Participants are the students. Their 'job' is to check by regularly for new information and to take part in the conversations.
- Conference: Each class has its own conference. A conference may span the entire semester with discussion around some part of the material covered in class, in the book, or from other sources, depending on the particular class and/or professor. It may allow students to retrieve schedules, assignments, contact information for the other students, summaries, suggestions, requests, news, etc. Going into a conference, you will see a welcome message, which briefly describes the conference, and a list of topics or conversations.
- Topics: Each conference may be divided into various topics. Each topic will most likely cover some large area of discussion, like a chapter from a book or a particular concept. Each topic has a page of its own on which you will find a Topic Message, which introduces that part of the conference, and then lists a series of conversations.
- Conversations: The conversations are where the actual conferencing takes place. Anyone in the conference can start a conversation or reply to a conversation. After reading a Topic Message, you can choose to respond to it by leaving a message praising/criticizing/questioning/whatever'ing it. Then, other people who stop by that Topic Page can see your message and reply to it as they choose.
Originally generated by
Shahaf Abileah and
Aaron Rosen for
Now maintained by the COW Administrators
Copyright 1996-1998 Regents of the University of Michigan